Wild Card Weekend Previews

Jim's Basketball Private Line Club now 7-0!
Heat (+5.5) outright winner over Suns 109-105

Blue Ribbon Goes 2-0 - also having a Tremendous Year
Washington St (+2) over Arizona 78-76
Pacific (-5.5) over Cal Poly 73-63

Cashline Basketball Splits
Mavericks (+4) over Spurs 112-103
Lakers (-5.5) losing to Trailblazers 98-107

ALABAMA 37, TEXAS 21 - THE ANATOMY OF A BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME AS WE DISSECT THE CRIMSON TIDE'S TITLE TRIUMPH ...

NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND IS HERE AND IT'S CHOCK FULL OF WEEK 17 REMATCHES AND WE ANALYZE SATURDAY'S TWO BLOCKBUSTER REVENGE TILTS (THAT'S NEW YORK JETS AT CINCINNATI AND PHILADELPHIA AT DALLAS) ... PLUS THE SUPER BOWL XLIV ODDS TO WIN IT ALL AND UP-TO-DATE PLAYOFF TEAMS POWER RATINGS

By Jim Hurley

Get the feeling that "Sweet Home Alabama" is gonna be playing on lots of radio stations the next few days in/around Tuscaloosa?
    
Okay, so the 'Bama Crimson Tide snagged this year's BCS National Championship Game with Thursday night's 37-21 victory over Texas but, boy, do we have a number of issues with this game and - surprise, surprise - most of what we have to say here wasn't even uttered by the geniuses at ABC Sports (a/k/a ESPN) ... we'll get to our analysis in a moment as today's Jim Sez officially flips the page from the College Kids to the NFL Playoffs and so be reminded that most of what's ahead in the next few weeks here will feature the NFL Playoffs along with a fair share of College and NBA Hoops too.
    
But first this key reminder:
   
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to rock your Football World with this weekend's NFL Wild Card Games both on Saturday and Sunday and remember there's NBA and NCAA Basketball too when you call us daily at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or else when you log online right here.
    

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME:
WHY IT WAS A CASE OF "ROLL TIDE" IN BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

The fact of the matter is nobody needs to hear Alabama head coach Nick Saban - a great teacher, a fair-to-good game coach and a real bore - drone on and on about what makes Alabama football so wonderful.
    
The post-midnight (ET), post-game presser was a real snooze job from a guy who had just captured a national title for one of the two or three greatest football schools in the country and maybe instead of kissing up to his superiors (see school president, advisors, etc.) maybe Saban should have given a great big thanks to the fact that his team didn't have to face Texas QB Colt McCoy for more than just a handful of plays.
    
McCoy's game-ending shoulder injury - and we'll get to him shortly - basically forced Texas to play with "one hand tied behind its back" on offense for much of the night and yet the Longhorns still had a legit shot to win late after Saban put the game into a deep freeze and then nearly allowed a wet-behind-the-ears true freshman quarterback almost beat the best defense in the land.
    
Maybe Texas QB Garrett Gilbert (15-of-40 passing for 186 yards, 2 TDs and 4 INTs) will be "another McCoy" in a year or two but his novice play kept the Big 12 champs behind the proverbial eight-ball for most of the night although the truth is his wide receivers rarely helped out save for a second-half flurry (see WR Jordan Shipley's 10 catches for 122 yards and two scores) and both head coach Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis deserve a bevy of boos for both their play-calling (specifically for that late first-half shovel pass that was returned for an Alabama touchdown).
    
We'll take issue next with a Texas defense that entered this game having allowed a nation's-best 69 rushing yards a game and yet allowed two 'Bama backs - Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram (22 carries for 116 yards) and frosh Trent Richardson (19 carries for 109 yards) - to exceed the century mark here as the Longhorns tackled poorly or - in some instances - not at all (see Richardson's 49-yard TD scamper up the gut in the Tide's 24-point second quarter).
     
Was it the long layoff that cost Texas on "D" or perhaps the Big 12 folks were a tad "soft" as some folks suggested prior to this year's BCS National Championship Game?
    
Now, back to McCoy: It's always a tough spot for media folks to doubt the pain of an injured player but maybe ABC play-by-play man Brent Musburger hit the nail on the head (while making folks read between the lines) when suggesting McCoy's NFL future may be playing into the decision not to allow him back in this title game. Hey, the senior slinger said afterwards that he had no pain - he just had a "dead arm" - and he owed it to his teammates to give it a shot.
    
Right, it's easy for someone (like yours truly) to suggest McCoy should have played after that early-game shoulder injury but consider the X-rays were negative, he wasn't wearing any sling on the sidelines in the second half and didn't even attempt to loosen it up on the sidelines. Strange.
    
Finally, here's a big-time "thumbs down" to the Big East officials who worked the game.
    
The 'Horns were penalized 8 times for 77 yards while 'Bama was charged with 5 penalties worth 38 yards and yet there were back-to-back pass interference penalties that should have been called on the SEC team at one stage (and that would have bailed out Gilbert and Co. some) and yet one ticky-tack hand battle later in the game that was flagged for pass interference ... on Texas!
    
Sorry for the "sour grapes" - if you ask us - this was the second consecutive title game (the last being Super Bowl XLIII last year between Pittsburgh versus Arizona) where there was real shaky officiating by the zebras and it's a real shame when bad calls or non-calls sully a title bout.
    
Okay, we'll give 'Bama its props as Ingram was wonderful, the defense made the key plays when needed (see LB Eryk Anders' late-game sack-and-forced fumble against Gilbert) and the special teams managed to survive a disastrous night that included two botched plays on kickoffs and a long field goal miss.
    
No, it wasn't a perfect game by any means - but keep playing championships 33 days after the last game of the season and this is what we get.
    
At least "The Bear" is smiling today.
 

NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND: JETS-BENGALS AND EAGLES-COWBOYS REV IT UP IN SATURDAY'S TWO PLAYOFF TILTS

In an AFC Wild Card Round Playoff Game, it's ...
    
NEW YORK JETS (9-7) at CINCINNATI (10-6) - 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC
    
There are three Week 17 "rematch games" on this weekend's NFL Wild Card Weekend schedule but this is the only one where the venue has changed ... and will that make all the difference in the world or maybe not mean anything at all?
    
No doubt that the here-and-now Cincinnati Bengals - a team that swept the AFC North 6-to-0 this year (okay, they covered four of the six games so they're not perfect!) and won in Green Bay and almost won in San Diego - have been emotionally walloped in recent weeks with the death of WR Chris Henry heading up the list of trials and tribulations but this club believes the playoffs will present a clean slate with RB Cedric Benson (1,251 yards rushing) ready/willing/able to make hay here after sitting out last week's 37-0 who-cares loss at the Jets.
    
Benson probably can count on getting 30 rushes here as long as Cincinnati never gets behind by two-or-more scores and on the flip side is there's a Jets' ground game that led the NFL in rushing thanks mainly to RB Thomas Jones (1,402 yards rushing) and a stellar O-line -- and so the biggest part of this playoff-opening game is old-fashioned football at its very best:
    
Can these teams that run the ball so well also be able to stop the other guy's ground game?
    
And what other playmaker will be a big part of this game? The Jets' Brad Smith was a Wildcat whiz last week in the win against Cincy while old Jet WR Laveranues Coles could be an X-factor.
    
Spread Notes - Cincinnati is just 7-9 ATS (against the spread) overall this season and that includes a 3-5 spread mark in home games and, believe it or not, an 0-and-7 pointspread record when in the role of betting favorite. In fact, underdog sides were a collective 14-2 versus the vig in the Bengals' 16 regular-season games this year. On the flip side, the NY Jets enter this AFC Wild Card affair at 9-7 spreadwise overall this season and the AFC East crew is 3-2 ATS as dogs and 5-3 vig-wise away. The Jets are a dead-even and vig-losing 3-3 spreadwise in playoff games the past 10 years.

WILD-CARD WINNING SATURDAY

The Jim Hurley Network came streaking down the homestretch of the NFL season, going 9-2-1 to close it out. And the timing of that success is no coincidence. We have football experts on staff who work long hours studying tape and finding the personnel mismatches each week that the point spread doesn't always reflect. With increasing number of games from which to study, our people become unstoppable! We showed it at the end of the regular season, and now we're going to keep it going in the playoffs! Get with us Saturday and get both the Jets-Bengals and Cowboys-Eagles for just $50! Or for even better value, click here and check out our package for the entire NFL Playoffs--all 11 games--for just $195!


CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP ONLINE
Or Call The Office At 1-800-323-4453 or 1-516-749-8094

 In an NFC Wild Card Round Playoff Game, it's ...
    
PHILADELPHIA (11-5) at DALLAS (11-5) - 8 p.m. ET, NBC
    
Let us be the first to lay some big-time clichés on you:
    
For Philadelphia, we ask if the "third time is going to be the charm" as the Eagles look to avert a three-game season sweep at the hands of Dallas.
    
On the flip side, you have to wonder if this indeed is "now-or-never" time for the Cowboys who have not won a playoff game in 13 years and likely will get a whole different roster (and probably a new coaching staff too) should they be one-and-done in this year's post-season.
    
Make what you will about last week's 24-0 Cowboys' home win against the Eagles that kayoed any/all hope of Philly landing the NFC's #2 seed and the first-round playoff bye that went with it but the fact of the matter is Dallas bombarded Andy Reid's club from every angle - and not just from up the middle on "D" where Dallas did expose a Philadelphia weak link (see injured center Jamaal Jackson).
    
The Eagles didn't run the ball well (see 10 carries for 37 yards) and QB Donovan McNabb was his normal inaccurate self for much of this game although he didn't get much help from his young pass-catchers as rookie WR Jeremy Maclin let one spiral shoot right through his mitts and WR DeSean Jackson seemed to quit on more than a few routes as this not-so-dynamic duo combined for only six receptions. It's entirely possible here that the Eagles will switch game plans some: More screen passes to RBs Brian Westbrook and mates and a bigger dose of TE Brent Celek (7 catches for 96 yards last weekend) who is more than simply a convenient red-zone target for McNabb.
    
Meanwhile, Dallas defensive linemen Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer and others must get physical early and create a batch of negative yardage plays.
    
If Dallas is gonna pull the "hat trick" against archrival Philly this year, then Cowboys QB Tony Romo (4,483 yards passing with 26 TDs and only 9 INTs) must steer clear of forcing the action here - both Pro Bowl WR Miles Austin and TE Jason Witten must take equal parts of gobbling up aerial yardage and the 'Boys must do better on short-yardage runs than they did for much of the final few weeks ... RB Marion Barber III is running behind perhaps the NFL's best offensive line at this moment in time and yet he's struggled in short-yardage and goal-line rushes.
    
Spread Notes - Dallas enters this prime-time post-season tilt on a three-game pointspread winning streak en route to a 9-7 ATS regular season but did you know the 'Boys have failed to cover three of their four playoff games since the start of the 1999  season? Note that Dallas entered this current campaign having failed to cover 13 of its last 19 head-to-head matchups with Philadelphia but then Phillips' crew swept the season's series both SU (straight) and against the odds. Meanwhile, Philly is also 9-7 versus the vig overall this '09 season and that includes a 5-3 ATS away mark but a 1-3 spread record when in the underdog role. The Eagles are a collective 11-6 against the odds in all post-season games under boss-man Reid.

SUPER BOWL XLIV ODDS TO WIN IT ALL

     Okay, so here are the dozen NFL Playoff teams with their eyes on the big prize. Note that the "win it all odds" here are based on $100 per-play wagers:

TEAM 

ODDS

COMMENT

Indianapolis 

+100 

Something is telling us that most of the country is rooting hard against this year's Colts

New Orleans 

+200 

The "Who Dats" really/truly needed a bye week to recharge the batteries

San Diego 

+300 

The "Super" Chargers roll into the "tournament" on an NFL-best 11-game winning streak

Minnesota 

+400 

Now, hear this: The Vikes are one of six playoff teams this year never to have won a Super Bowl

New England

+800 

Can "Comeback Player of the Year" QB Tom Brady stay in one piece this whole post-season?

Dallas 

+1000 

No playoff wins since '96 but "America's Team" is considered a real hot item right now

Green Bay 

+1700 

Can you imagine if the Packers win it all - and old pal QB Brett Favre is forced to watch?

Arizona 

+1800 

Last year's NFC champs are being left for dead again - but is that a big mistake?

Philadelphia 

+1800 

Did the Eagles "play possum" last week in that 24-0 loss in Dallas or are the Birds really dead?

Baltimore 

+2500 

The Ravens were real road warriors last post-season ... can they travel in style once again?

Cincinnati 

+3000 

Once upon a time this year these AFC North champs looked formidable, but not lately

New York Jets 

+3000 

Rookie coach Rex Ryan says the J-E-T-S should be the favorites to win it all ... he's a funny guy!


NFL PLAYOFF TEAM POWER RATINGS

Let's get you this feature that normally appears in Jim Hurley's NETWORK BULLETIN:

  • Jim Hurley's Network Bulletin NCAA & NFL Power Ratings include three distinct categories - Power Rating (PR), Coach Rating (CR) and Home Field Rating (HF): Note that all three ratings are subject to weekly changes. The maximum rating for Coach and Home Field is 5 Points apiece.
  • When computing a particular head-to-head football matchup, just subtract the lower number Power Rating from the higher number and then figure in both the Coach Rating and the Home Field Rating.
  • For example, let's take an NFL Wild Card matchup here and say the Baltimore Ravens are at the New England Patriots:
  • Baltimore's Power Rating is 93 and New England is 95. So far, New England is a 2-point betting favorite.
  • Next up is the Coach Rating: Baltimore is rated a 3 and New England is rated a 4. For now, New England is a 3-point betting favorite.
  • Finally, we factor in the Home Field Rating and so add 3 Points to New England's side.
        
    And here's what we've got:
  • Baltimore is a 96 and host New England is a 102. Our Jim Sez Power Ratings, therefore, suggests that New England should be a 6-Point Betting Favorite over Baltimore in Sunday's AFC Wild Card matchup. 

TEAM 

PR 

CR 

HF

Arizona

92

3

3

Baltimore

93

3

3

Cincinnati 

90

3

3

Dallas 

95

3

3

Green Bay 

95

3

3

Indianapolis 

102

3

4

Minnesota 

100

3

4

New England 

95

4

3

New Orleans 

98

3

3

NY Jets 

90

3

3

Philadelphia 

95

3

3

San Diego 

103

3

 

THE NFL WILD CARD ROUND ROLLS ON - NOW IT'S TIME TO CHECK IN ON SUNDAY'S TWO BIG GAMES AS RAVENS-PATRIOTS & PACKERS-CARDINALS CLASH...COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRAP-UP TIME: WE SALUTE THE TOP SPREAD SIDES IN '09 SEASON (ALL WITH .750-OR-BETTER WIN PERCENTAGES!)

By Jim Hurley:

In case you hadn't noticed, this year's NFL Playoffs opened with six teams that didn't make it to the post-season last year but now are part of the fun-n-games (that's Cincinnati, Dallas, Green Bay, New England, New Orleans and the New York Jets).
    
Meanwhile, there are six teams that were part of last year's playoff mix and yet were on the outside-looking-in this post-season and they include Atlanta, Carolina, Miami, New York Giants, Tennessee, and - of course - last year's Super Bowl-winning Pittsburgh Steelers.
   
That's a strict 50 percent turnover in NFL teams and that's pretty much par for the course in this here-and-now NFL world.
    
Just consider for a moment that the only NFL teams to make it into the post-season the past four years in a row are the Indianapolis Colts (soon to be playing in their eighth consecutive post-season) and the San Diego Chargers (soon to be involved in their fourth straight post-season).
    
You can talk up the "dynasty" word all you want but these days it's tough enough to get into the playoffs every year and so maybe that's what qualifies as a modern-day dynasty in pro football...
    
Does your NFL team make it into the playoffs on an annual basis -- or not?
    
Now that everyone knows the Steelers won't be defending their Super Bowl crown this month, the Colts and Chargers have been ultra-popular picks to "win it all" but do keep in mind that in three of the past four years a team that had to play Wild Card Weekend won it all - the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 2006 Indy Colts and the 2007 New York Giants.
    
It's been the burning question on everyone's minds this week:
    
Will one of the teams we're watching this weekend (and not one of the #1 or #2 conference seeds who are getting byes) gonna be holding aloft the Vince Lombardi Trophy come the night of February 7th?
     
Do stay tuned!
    

NFL WILD CARDS - THE SUNDAY GAME PREVIEWS

In an AFC Wild Card Round Playoff Game, it's...
    
BALTIMORE (9-7) at NEW ENGLAND (10-6) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS

It's tough to figure whether the New England Patriots are looking at this year's playoffs with a cup-half-full or cup-half-empty approach:
    
After all, the AFC East champs do have QB Tom Brady back at the helm one year after his Week One knee injury sabotaged the whole '08 season but the superstar signal-caller doesn't have WR Wes Welker (NFL-best 123 receptions this season) to throw to after the slot receiver tore up his knee in an otherwise meaningless game last Sunday in Houston.
    
If Brady - who threw for 4,398 yards and 28 TDs this past regular season - can get enough production in the passing game from WR Randy Moss (83 catches for 1,264 yards receiving) and a slew of capable RBs and TEs, then the Pats may well survive this round and maybe even more playoff games in the weeks ahead but the down side says Moss will get blanketed here by an albeit banged-up Baltimore defensive secondary and then NE's ability to survive-and-advance could come down to role players such as RB Kevin Faulk and/or TE Benjamin Watson making the crunch-time play in the passing game.
    
Meanwhile, Baltimore believes it can slug its way past the Patriots here - the now two-headed ground game of RB Ray Rice (1,339 yards rushing) and born-again RB Willis McGahee (167 yards rushing and three TDs in last week's gotta-have-it 21-13 non-cover win at 10-point pup Oakland) - wants to share 30-plus rushing attempts here but something tells us second-year QB Joe Flacco (3,613 yards passing with 21 TDs and 12 INTs) is going to have to make some big fourth-quarter plays in the passing game... or else!
    
Spread Notes - Baltimore registered an 8-7-1 ATS (against the spread) mark in the just-completed 2009 regular season and that includes a 2-3-1 spread log when in the underdog role. The Ravens produced just a 3-4-1 away pointspread mark this year after having gone 8-3 versus the vig in road games last year. Meanwhile, New England's 8-7-1 against the Las Vegas prices this year and note the Patriots enter this clash on a four-game spread losing streak in post-season play.

WILD-CARD WINNING SUNDAY  

Two great games are on tap today, and the football experts of the Jim Hurley Network--the architects of our 9-2-1 closing rush in the regular season have registered in with a strong opinion on the pointspread winner in both games. They've been buried in their tapes, looking to understand how the Patriot offense will function without Wes Welker, or if the Ravens can get to Brady. They've been studying the reasons behind Green Bay's defensive turnaround and examining whether Arizona is structured to effectively overcome the Packer D. Spend that much time with the tape, and you'll come up with answers! We've got 'em, and their yours for just $50! Or for even better value, click here and check out our package for the entire NFL Playoffs--all 11 games--for just $195!

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP ONLINE
Or Call The Office At 1-800-323-4453 or 1-516-749-8094

  
In an NFC Wild Card Round Playoff Game, it's...
    
GREEN BAY (11-5) at ARIZONA (10-6) - 4:40 p.m. ET, Fox
    
Maybe the Arizona Cardinals think they've become the Rodney Dangerfields of the NFL:
    
After all, isn't this the team that ran the NFC Playoffs table last year with back-to-back-to-back wins against Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia en route to a berth in Super Bowl XLIII?
    
Now, here we are a year later and the Cards - hosts in an NFC Wild Card Round game for a second straight season - could wind up being underdogs in this tilt against the on-fire GB Packers (note that the Vegas line is pick 'em at press time).
    
The Cards don't exactly head into this clash 100 percent healthy as WR Anquan Boldin (left ankle) and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (bruised left kneecap) are among the major question marks here for coach Ken Whisenhunt's team that last week decided to rest most of the starters after brief cameo appearances in that 33-7 home loss to the Packers.
     
Green Bay, meanwhile, has some concern with CB Charles Woodson (shoulder strain) who figures to land the league's Defensive Player of the Year Award any day now. If Woodson is hurt worse than Green Bay is letting on, then the NFC North crew will blitz less often here while giving Woodson more help and so that plays into the strategy of the weekend's final Wild Card Round Game.
    
Now, here's two other strategic talking points:
    
The Packers want QB Aaron Rodgers (4,434 yards passing) to stretch the field early and thus open up things underneath for screens, draws and the like - but that means Mike McCarthy's crew needs to hit a couple of "home runs" deep early in this one;
    
The Cardinals may be looking to reverse that strategy as they want RBs Beanie Wells (793 yards rushing) and Tim Hightower (598 rushing yards) to bang out some big chain-moving plays early so that the QB Kurt Warner-to-WR Larry Fitzgerald combo can shine on deeper patterns when Green Bay's active, young LBs "cheat up". Warner (3,753 yards passing with 26 TDs and 14 INTs) and Fitzgerald (97 receptions and 13 TDs) have been down this path before.
    
Now, we'll see who's the wiser in this dead-even affair.
    
Spread Notes - Arizona finished the '09 regular season with a 9-7 ATS mark that included a spread split in the Cardinals' eight home games. Note that 'Zona is 6-4 versus the vig when playing non-NFC Westy squads this year but date back to late '08 and you'll see the Redbirds have covered 10 of their last 14 non-divisional games. On the flip side, Green Bay rolls into this post-season tilt on a six-game ATS winning streak (7-0-1 ATS in its last eight games) and the Packers are 11-4-1 spreadwise overall this season.


COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S BEST SPREAD SIDES

It's time to put the 2009 College Football Season in the proverbial rear-view mirror but, before we say goodbye, let's give a round of applause to the country's best pointspread sides. In all, there are seven teams listed here that played .750-or-better ball against the vig and who says you have to be a "big-name" team to come away with all the riches?

CONNECTICUT (10-3) - The Huskies were a perfect 7-and-oh against the odds whenever taking points and those outright upset wins against Notre Dame and South Carolina (the former in two OTs and the latter in the Papa John's Bowl) were vintage games for Randy Edsall's program.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (10-3) - All hail the Blue Raiders who ended the '09 campaign on a seven-game spread winning streak including that 42-32 win against 3 ½-point fav Southern Miss in the latest New Orleans Bowl.

OHIO STATE (10-3) - Okay, so here's one "big name" team that struck it rich this year as the Rose Bowl champions were masterful versus the vig with the Big 10 Buckeyes copping five of their six away games along the way.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN (10-3-1) - The funny thing about these Chippewas is they didn't cover the Mid-American Conference Championship Game win against Ohio nor the thrill-a-minute 44-41 win/push in double-overtime versus Troy in this week's GMAC Bowl.

CENTRAL FLORIDA (9-3) - The '09 season didn't end the way the UCF Knights would have liked with that 45-24 loss to Rutgers in the St. Petersburg Bowl but hats off to George O'Leary and Company for covering 75 percent of their on-the-board tilts including spread "W's against the likes of Houston, East Carolina and Texas.

UTAH STATE (9-3) - The Aggies didn't get invited to a bowl game thanks to a 4-8 SU (straightup) mark but this WAC crew piled up the winners spreadwise while covering four-of-five games as double-digit dogs.

WYOMING (9-3) - The Cowboys lassoed a 75 percent winning rate spreadwise and among the conquests was an early-season cover against Texas and that bowl-opening 35-28 double-OT win against Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl.

Think about it: If you just so happened to have bet all these teams - and nobody else - this '09 College Football Season you would have registered a 67-21-1 mark (a .761 winning rate).
    
Here's to the winners!

NOTE: Get our NFL Wild Card Playoff Round wrap-up in the next edition of Jim Sez.
23
Nov

Today’s Hot Plays